Pagan Studies

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When the young leave us

Last night, like so many others, I tuned into the stillness and silence of the chilling autumn to honor those who have passed into the Otherworld. Every year my coven hosts an intimate dumb supper at my home. This year we had seventeen people crammed into my small urban duplex. The potluck dishes were everywhere; the counters, all the tables, and even on the piano. It struck me as interesting that so many people took the time to come out to something that did not feature a flashy ritual or a raging social party. Many came with a sincere interest in giving thinks to the Mighty Dead. Others probably came with a secret desire to chance a whisper from a deceased loved one during the time of silence the supper brings. In any case, the reverence at the event was permeable.

Dumb SupperOur dumb supper altar to the dead

I originally intended to connect with my grandpa who passed over the summer. But when the silence came and we began to eat our meals, a different presence came over me. Instead of feeling the many beautiful elderly people I've had in my life, I felt the memory of those youth we've lost recently and not so recently. As strange as it sounds, the candles on the ancestor altar in front of these people's photos seemed to glow bright than the others. Intrigued, I dropped down into a deep stillness and listened.

The two who I immediately sensed in my heart were the two I had special places for on the altar. Dave Grega (1984-2012, pictured here) and Katrina "Foxglove" Kessler (1989-2012) stepped forward in my mind's eye. I greeted them, made a silent toast, and asked if they had anything to tell me. They did not speak or give me any signs. Looking back, I believe they just wished to make their presence known and perhaps to inspire a blog post or two.

Its considered a terrible tragedy when the young die. We say they left "before their time" or that "a mother should never have to bury her child." There is a special type of burning sting that comes with experiencing the loss of a young person in our lives. It transcends religion, culture, and language. I have heard mediums say that when a young person dies, the grief of the living can cause rifts in the spaces they lived. I'm not sure how much I believe that, but it is undeniable that there is often more going on than if they passed from what we call "old age" conditions.

When the elderly die, we honor their legacy. We look at the richness of their life and all they brought to the world. We turn our faces to their achievements and victories in addition to the personal comfort their companionship brought us. When the young die, we usually look at their potential and what they could have done. Perhaps this is the reason why the grief strikes so deep. Maybe we feel they were cheated out of opportunities they deserved to pursue fully. However, when Pagan youth die, we not only look at their potential in life, but their victories as well. In a community where everyone is seen as important and worthy, we recognize that the young person brought things to this world that were just as important as if they did them decades later. Whether its networking to build a future for Pagan media as Dave did or cultivating leadership for Pagan youth as Katrina did, we have many reasons to raise our Samhain cups to their names.

What we remember lives on.

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David Salisbury is a queer, vegan, Witch and author experiencing life in our nations capital. David is Wiccan clergy within the Firefly Tradition and is High Priest of Coven of the Spiral Moon, a Firefly coven based in DC. The focal point of his spiritual practice is one of service, activism and respect. To fulfill this vocation, he is a full time employee with the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBT civil rights organization. He is the author of The Deep Heart of Witchcraft (Moon Books, 2013) and Teen Spirit Wicca (Soul Rocks, 2014).

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